|The Killing Joke|
One of the most controversial Batman stories was adapted into an animated film which saw a limited worldwide release on Monday. I am a huge Batman fan and despite the controversial nature of the comic The Killing Joke is one of my favorite Batman stories. Hence, I was fairly excited to see this film. Like always this review contains spoilers so please skip to the conclusion where I give my final verdict if you don't want any spoilers. Before I start though most of my opinions concerning The Killing Joke can be found in my Comics Explained which I did for this story if you are interested in reading it.
Unexpectedly this film does not only use the story of the comic. Instead it starts off with another story depicting Batgirl, (Tara Strong), and Batman, (Kevin Conroy), trying to take down a narcissistic mobster, (Maury Sterling), who has a perverse fascination about Batgirl. Following this is the actual The Killing Joke story, (please see here). Overall the plot of the film is very good. The second half is a direct adaptation of the story so it builds on what originally worked while the first half I feel could have worked as a standalone story. The pacing of both halves is done very well so this allowed the plot to not feel rushed, as well as both halves not feeling rushed as well. The Joker's song when showing Gordon images of a tortured Barbara was done very well also and it epitomizes the Joker; singing happily and cheerfully about the darkest of things imaginable. Although, I felt that the second half was stronger than the first, but that does not mean that the first half was bad.
The first half I originally thought was just filler to pad out the film, unlike The Dark Knight Returns or The Long Halloween The Killing Joke is a somewhat shorter story, until the second half started. It served as a good way to build up to the overall theme of the story: can we bring ourselves back from the darkness. It delves much with Batgirl finding the strength not to permanently harm, or even kill, a sadistic sociopath who has been fantasizing about her and wants to make her his own. It very much helps set up the second half effectively which deals with not giving in to our own anger. I particularly liked the mobster who Batgirl wants to take down, Paris, and I could easily imagine him being one of the Bat family mobster villains like Black Mask. However, there were some things that I was not happy with. Largely the Bat sex. I shall talk more about this because to me and many others it seemed to ruin the first half.
For those who weren't aware Batman and Batgirl have sex and throughout the story it plays with sexual tension which Batgirl feels for Batman. I hated this aspect of the story. I have a feeling that Brian Azzarello thought that exploring a relationship between Batman and Batgirl this would create a bigger impact for the second half. As a comic book fan and a huge Batman and Batgirl fan I felt this was a complete misrepresentation of the characters, and from what people are saying on the internet I am not alone. I always felt Batman was like a father figure for Batgirl rather than a romantic interest and this could easily have been shown by the film. To me it would have been much better if Batman's protectiveness over Batgirl and her rebelling against him was meant to represent a father wanting to protect his daughter and a daughter wanting to show her father that she can do these things. Batman mentioning not giving in to the darkness could have worked into this as well. A scene in the second half has the Batcomputer which shows an image of a dying Robin. In the story Death in the Family the Joker beats to death Jason Todd who was the second Robin which Batman sees as his greatest failure. I felt maybe they could have used this and have Batman's protectiveness being about the fear of losing a daughter just as he lost a son. Thanks to this Bat sex issue it really messed up the first half of the story.
|Mark Hamill aka the Joker|
One of the best things about the movie is the voice acting. The actors who voiced their characters in the DC Animated Universe reprise their roles in this movie. Kevin Conroy is by far my favorite Batman and he brings back that good performance in this movie. Tara Strong is back as Batgirl and she is really good as well. I find Strong's work to always be good and this is no exception. John DiMaggio, (Jake the Dog from Adventure Time and Bender from Futurama), is in this and I did not know until the credits, and he does a good job here also. However, all this is overshadowed by one actor: Mark Hamill. Hamill reprises his role as the Joker and he steals the show. He is once again fantastic and literally everything about him is done well. In this role he captures everything that makes the Joker: happy about doing the most evil things possible, suddenly going into a psychotic rage, then laughing immediately after the rage, singing gleefully about dying children and going insane, and all with a perverse charm. I had goose bumps when he gave the famous 'One Bad Day' monologue. He steals the show without a doubt. The joke he says at the end actually got laughs from some people at the end despite the dire atmosphere which shows his good performance. In his final performance as the Joker he definitely solidifies himself as the best Joker.
|Both good, like this, and poor at times|
The animation is a mixed bag. At times, such as the shot above, it is very well done very good animation. There's two times where it really stands out: one when the Batmobile pulls an armored car from a truck and another when the Joker's admiring his amusement park. During the final fight between the Joker and Batman it is really well done and the quick paced editing really adds to the effect. I particularly like how they've made it resemble the DC Animated Universe animation style which is a nice throwback. However, at times the animation is poor and the editing choppy. There's only one point when it stands out, when Batman is entering Arkham Asylum, but periodically throughout the film the animation quality drops as well as the frames per second. It is noticeable and it is really offputting, especially when it is really good at other times of the movie. As the budget of the film is only around US $ 3.5 million I have a feeling they purposefully gave the more important scenes the better animation which is a shame. It really wrecks the rest of the movie that some scenes has far better editing and animation. Although for just three and a half million it does have good animation and it is far better than Norm of the North with a budget around six times that of The Killing Joke. Although, I was a bit disappointed that they left out the two beams of light and one turning off that was at the end of the comic, (which started the theory that Batman killed the Joker), but that might just be me as it is my favorite panel in the comic.
The music is phenomenal. Most Batman movies have good music and this one is no exception. As said earlier the Joker's song is really good and the use of a Broadway type song is very imaginative and fits very well with the Joker's personality. During the last fight as well it is very tense which adds to an already tense scene making a thrilling experience. From a technical standpoint this is the best part of the film. Nothing more to be said of it.
The movie had two short documentaries with it: one before about Mark Hamill as the Joker and one after about the music. Both were good although I preferred the first one. It starts with Hamill in 1976 being cast as Luke Skywalker, then up to the 1990s when he became the Joker, then in 2008/9 when he reprised his role in Batman: Arkham Asylum and then 2016 with this movie. It was a good homage to the best Joker in my opinion.
Like all comic book movies it contains some references to the wider DC universe although with this one it is mostly limited to the Batman comics. John DiMaggio appeared who played the Joker, very well as well, in Batman: Under the Red Hood. Two Face also has a brief cameo when Batman arrives at the asylum where his scarred side is clawing at the front of his cell. Finally, on the Batcomputer there are several references to famous Joker stories including Death in the Family as a beaten Robin can be seen as well as referencing the Joker's very first appearance in one part of the screen.
With good animation at times, good voice acting, phenomenal work from Hamill and good music but thanks to bad editing at times, some poor animation, a weaker first half and that unforgivable Bat sex scene I shall give Batman: The Killing Joke a 7.1/10. Not as good as Under the Red Hood or The Dark Knight Returns and I doubt Alan Moore would be happy with it, but it is a good film regardless which I feel any DC fan will enjoy. Thanks for reading and please feel free to give me your own opinions on the movie.
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